Most Christians have believed that after Jesus was crucified he died, rose from the dead on the third day, was seen by his disciples on occasion, that forty days later he ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives as his apostles watched him go. All of this is in the New Testament, in Acts 1.1-9.
Most Christians also have believed that Jesus literally will return to earth someday, bringing the kingdom of God with him in all of its glory. The book of Acts tells about this. It says as the apostles were watching Jesus ascend into the clouds and disappear from their sight, “And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was departing, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them; and they also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven'” (Acts 1.10-11 NASB). The “two men” surely were angels who looked like men.
But it has been so long now, almost 2,000 years, since Jesus was here, and still he has not returned. Because of this, Christians have often been embarrassed about their belief in Jesus’ yet future return, called “the second coming.” And it has been perhaps the biggest criticism of Christianity by skeptics. So, why hasn’t Jesus returned yet?
There are several reasons. One of the main reasons was stated by the Apostle Peter in his first two sermons, delivered only days after Jesus ascended to heaven. In his first sermon at Jerusalem, on the Day of Pentecost when thousands of Jews heard him, Peter proclaimed, “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know–this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. And God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power…. Therefore, let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ–this Jesus whom you crucified…. Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2.22-24, 36, 38).
So, Peter said twice in this sermon that Jesus was a “man,” and he never said he was God. Furthermore, Peter said Jesus was “attested by God.” This signifies at least two important things in light of the traditional church teaching that Jesus is both man and God: (1) it distinguishes God and Jesus as two separate individuals, and (2) God attesting of Jesus indicates that Jesus is essentially subordinate to God and thus not God. Then notice that Peter said the proof that God attested of Jesus was that God did miracles through Jesus. This indicates two points about Jesus not being God: (1) if Jesus was God, he would have been able to do his own miracles without God’s help, and (2) God doing the miracles through Jesus reveals Jesus’ dependence upon God for that miraculous power. But if Jesus was God, he wouldn’t have had to depend on God.
Then notice that Peter laid blame upon his own Jewish brethren for crucifying Jesus. Yes, it was actually the Romans–starting with Governor Pilate and then the soldiers whom he commanded–who crucified Jesus. But why did they?
The Sanhedrin was the religious ruling council at Jerusalem. The New Testament (NT) gospels claim the Sanhedrin planned to arrest Jesus, which it did. Then it condemned Jesus in an all-night hearing. Sanhedrin leaders then brought Jesus to Pilate early that morning. They accused Jesus as a blasphemer worthy of death.
But the NT gospels make it clear that Pilate examined Jesus privately three different times. Then he came out to the Sanhedrin leaders, announcing that he found no fault in Jesus (e.g., Luke 23.4, 14, 22). But the Sanhedrin leaders prevailed upon Pilate, stirring up the crowd (e.g., Mark 15.11). Matthew says Pilate “knew that because of envy they delivered Him up” (Matt. 27.18). Jesus was popular with the people.
One of those times Pilate questioned Jesus privately, Jesus told Pilate, “he who delivered Me up to you has the greater sin” (John 19.11). It was the Sanhedrin that had delivered Jesus to Pilate. Thus, Jesus meant that the Sanhedrin had committed a greater sin than what Pilate was about to do in ordering Jesus’ crucifixion.
Matthew tells us, “And when Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the multitude [a ritual tradition to absolve oneself of guilt], saying, ‘I am innocent of this Man’s blood; see to that yourselves.’ And all the people [not just the Sanhedrin members] answered and said, ‘His blood be on us and on our children'” (Matt. 27.24-25).
Their statement effectively meant, “put the guilt on us, and not only us but also our descendants.” Of course, they said this believing they were not guilty of anything; rather, they believed they were serving God by having this blasphemer put to death.
So, not only were the Jews, starting with their Sanhedrin leaders, most guilty for the death of Jesus, they announced their willingness to accept this guilt if they were indeed guilty! But, they didn’t think they were. They were wrong, and history has proved it.
Moving forward to the Apostle Peter again, only days after he had preached his first sermon, on the Day of Pentecost, Peter preached to his Jewish brethren again who had been present during Passover when Jesus was crucified and called for his crucifixion. Peter said concerning this great sin of calling for Jesus’ crucifixion, “Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time…. For you first, God raised up His Servant, and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways” (Acts 3.19-21, 26). That is, to the Jew first, then the Gentile.When Peter finished both of these sermons to his countrymen, the book of Acts says thousands of them repented and were baptized in the name of Jesus (Acts 2.41; 4.4). Yet the Jewish religious leaders opposed Peter and his message, trying to keep the people from believing what Peter preached.
At first, Jews responded positively to Peter’s message. But soon the religious leaders regained control over the people, just had they had done with Jesus. The result was that eventually Jesus’ apostles turned to the Gentiles to spread their message about Jesus’ saving death, and the rest is history. That is, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its temple in AD 70, thus preventing Jews from continuing their animal sacrifices on the altar as commanded by God in the Torah. Then the Romans finished the destruction of Israel in AD 132-135, scattering Jews everywhere. And in the centuries that following it was the Gentiles who believed in Jesus and very few Jews who did.
Recall that Peter had proclaimed to the Jews in his second sermon, “Repent,… that He [God] may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you.” This is one of the main reasons, if not the supreme reason, that Jesus cannot return. He cannot return until there is a significant number of Jews who repent of their ancestors’ crucifixion of Jesus. Some who read this statement will argue with me, saying that is unfair or irrelevant, that Jewish descendants centuries later should be held accountable for what their ancestors did about Jesus. But that is because such people do not understand inherited guilt.
Germany long ago accepted its guilt for WWII. For many decades, due to peace treaties, the ancestors of those Germans of WWII have been paying many billions of dollars of war reparations for that misdeed ever since. The same for Japan. Vatican II apologizes for the Roman Catholic Church’s mistreatment of Jews during centuries. We could go on and on with this. The main thing is that Peter, inspired by God, preached it–that Jews must repent for Jesus to return. Interestingly, for Jews who may argue against this, it isn’t only Peter who said it. The Jews’ own prophets, starting with Moses, laid down this principle long ago. So, Peter was not original with it.
Moses predicted the Jewish Diaspora. Not only that, he said God would bring it about. Moses wrote of his people that because of their sin, “the LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and you shall be left few in number among the nations, where the LORD shall drive you. And there you will serve gods, the work of man’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell. But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have come upon you, in the latter days you will return to the LORD your God and listen to His voice. For the LORD your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you not forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them” (Deuteronomy 4.27-31).
Moses wrote later in this same book, saying the LORD said to him about the Hebrew people, “this people will arise and play the harlot with the strange gods of the land, into the midst of which they are going, and will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them. Then My anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide My face from them, and they shall be consumed, and many evils and troubles shall come upon them” (Deut. 31.16-17).
Moses also proclaimed in this book the blessing and the curse upon these Hebrews, which is part of the law code attached to the covenant (Deut. 28; cf. Leviticus 26). Then Moses wrote, “So it shall be when all of these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you and you call them to mind in all nations where the LORD your God has banished you, and you return to the LORD your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, then the LORD your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you” (Deut. 30.1-3).
Hosea the prophet proclaimed likewise. He wrote on behalf of God that due to Israel’s sin, “And like a young lion to the house of Judah, I, even I, will tear to pieces and go away, and I will carry away, and there will be none to deliver. I will go away and return to My place until they acknowledge their guilt and seek My face; in their affliction they will earnestly seek Me” (Hosea 5.14-15).
Micah the prophet also proclaimed this. He predicted that Israel’s Messiah, the “one who is to rule in Israel,” that he would be born in the little town of “Bethlehem,” which is where Jesus was born even though his parents lived in Nazareth (Micah 5.2). Then Micah also prophesied of God, “Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel” (v. 3). Then this Messiah “shall be great to the ends of earth” (v. 4).
What does Micah mean about “she who is in labor has brought forth”? Isaiah the prophet gives the answer. He says, “Before she was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son” (Isaiah 66.7), which may refer to Jesus. Isaiah continues, “Who has heard of such a thing? Who has seen such a thing? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be delivered in one moment? Yet as soon as Zion was in labor she delivered her children. Shall I open the womb and not deliver? says the LORD” (Isaiah vv. 7-9). Here, Isaiah refers to a penitent Jewish remnant that will emerge quickly in the last days. Then Jesus will return to deliver Israel and regather Jews from around the world to the Promised Land, where they will serve Jesus as King.